I attended my first CanJam feeling like a fake, a voyeur, a tourist at best. Everyone knows tourists make the best pigeons.
Am I expected to put ear buds into my ears after someone else (how many?) has stuck them in theirs—um, answer is yes? Which brands here are actually quality products vs. quality marketing? I had no idea. I was lost in an unfamiliar but tantalizing world of secret acronyms and jargon that others seemed to know, but was almost completely alien to me. I roamed the tables looking for something that I, a music enthusiast with aspirations, might recognize. I found a few products that were mentioned in the CanJam homepage video. Seemed sensible to start there.
I sat. I was greeted with smiles but not much else. Ordinarily, a skipped sales pitch would be a welcome pleasure, but in this case I really did need for my hand to be held. Was I supposed to plug in my own device or can I actually start touching all the knobs and gadgets on the table? What was I looking/listening for exactly? What was I supposed to compare these things to—my $80 Klipsch ear buds?
Simply saying “These sound great!” didn’t seem to impress anyone. Neither did my painfully innocent questions: “Tell me about this product?” “So what difference do all those extra drivers make?” At a certain point I gave up and used my life-line call to the audiophile friend who’s fault it is that I even aspire to better gear, and why I went to this thing in the first place. “Dude, this is like being at the snarky record store back in the day,” I complained. “Seriously, these guys don’t want to give me the time of day. And why do I think they’re all laughing at me?” His reply was brief and chilling. “You’ve arrived. Welcome to the world of audiophiles.”
So, after getting a few tips on quality brands from my buddy, I dove back into the room. No more questions. Just grab some cans, turn them up, and start pushing buttons (exactly the way I used to as a kid in a Radio Shack). I listened in on other people’s conversations. I defiantly searched music lists for Wage War and Death Grips to see what the most obnoxious music that I would ordinarily listen to sounded like on multi-thousand dollar headphones.
I touched every button and plugged their gear into my iPhone SE until the vendors started taking notice and cringing. They’d blab on about Hz, ohms, electromagnetic defibrillators, and what not—I’d nod my head and agree. Yeah, I was that guy.
I reveled in trying headphones I could never afford. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. And then it happened. I actually started hearing the differences between models. Hell, I even came away with a favorite—Abyss, a brand I had never heard of in my humble station as a mass consumer. Those damn things looked like the head gear a T-Rex would need for orthodontic braces. Didn’t matter — the overall clarity and levels of bass they produced made The Notorious B.I.G. album sound like I had just punched through a wall into another dimension. And by the time I can afford their “entry level” gray and brown models, I’ll be able to color coordinate my orthopedic shoes to match them. (Seriously, I coveted everything I saw by that brand from the awkward, yet comfortable, 80’s styled designs and logo to the depth and quality of sound they produced). Suddenly, the other gear on display didn’t seem so intimidating anymore.
So, will I be back next year? You better F’n believe it. Someone warn my parole officer, I just found a new addiction.